Monday, June 29, 2015

Some Thoughts on Poldark

I was really predisposed to like the new incarnation of Poldark currently airing on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.  I have never seen the original, nor read the book(s?), but, judging from the previews and the bit I heard from period-piece lovers who remembered the version from the 70s, I was excited about a sweeping romance, set in 18th century Cornwall, starring a dark and brooding hero.

I have seen the first two episodes, and although I'll continue to watch, probably, I have to say, I am not as impressed as I expected to be.  Cornwall is, of course, absolutely gorgeous.  Jordan and I visited Cornwall on our trip to England several years ago, and it is breathtaking--literally, we gasped when we got out of the car and saw where we were.  But the show seems to be dragging a bit.  I'm not quite sure that I can define what it is that's missing for me.  The plot seems promising: handsome Ross Poldark returns from war to his native Cornwall to find that his girlfriend Elizabeth is marrying his cousin and that his father has died, leaving behind debts, barren fields and an unproductive mine.  Despite well-meant(?) advice to pack up and leave, Poldark is determined to revive his family's fortunes through hard work and will-power.  Ok, I'm on board with the whole "making the mines work and the farm produce" narrative, but the romance aspect of the story seems...weird.  She married your cousin.  What are you going to do about it?  It's a little too late to change her mind.  So, that leaves either adultery or perhaps an early death for dear cousin Francis--neither of these plot developments sound particularly appealing to me.  And let me just draw this out a bit more--why are both of these options problematic?  I have to say, I am just tired of the way that infidelity is portrayed in so many films and shows--as unfortunate but excusable if it's a case of true love.  Nope.  It's just wrong.  And boring.  How would this play out? "Oh, no we mustn't do that" (but they do); "Oh, how can I live with myself?" (but she can); "What if we are found out?" (and they are).  It's predictable.  And, if we kill off Francis, isn't that just too easy?  I guess Ross would have to marry her then.  And, by the way, Elizabeth hardly seems an appealing person, unless all you care about is tumbling curls and luscious lips. 

An alternative would be to have Ross fall in love with someone else.  I thought initially that this might be Verity, Francis's sister (and also Ross's cousin), but it appears not to be.  For one thing, I forget that although cousins marrying each other was normal (and even sometimes expected) in the 18th and 19th century, I don't suppose it's going to form a major plot point in a contemporary work (I've read way too many Victorian novels).  And, perhaps more problematic, Verity is plain and pleasant.  Unsuitable as a romantic heroine.  So, apparently it's to be Demelza, the spunky, impoverished kitchen maid who owns a dog but no cloak is absolutely gorgeous beneath the layers of dirt and ill-fitting clothes.  I expect a full-blown Eliza Doolittle treatment very soon.

A few other things: what in the world are we supposed to make of Punch and Judy?  I mean Jud and Prudie, Poldark's servants.  We are introduced to them snoring in their deceased master's bed surrounded by unaccountable filth.  Poldark is stern with them, but keeps them on as they were his father's "friends."  They are lazy, cruel, and conniving, drinking on the sly at any opportunity.  Jud seems perhaps to be redeemable, as he leads a charge in Ross's defense, and he does get a few good lines in, (a repeated mantra of "tin't fair, tin't fit....") but what are they doing in the story?  Comedic relief?  Demonstrating Poldark's kindness and loyalty?  I suspect, with some distress, that what they are actually doing is to demonstrate how dirty and lazy the lower classes are.  Just as Ruth Teague and her mother are there to show how title-hungry and vapid upper-class ladies are, and just as Warleggan is there to show how the rising middle-class is long on money (and ways of getting more money), and short on principles.  Stereotypes all around.

I have hope for the show.  I am ready for the Elizabeth drama to be put to rest, since, as far as I can see, that's a closed door (and one that I can't really see why he would want opened anyway).  Let's get on to bringing the family fortunes around.  In short, more mining, less whining.